Com­ing up big

Meghan Klin­gen­berg is only 5 feet 1, but is help­ing an­chor a shut­down de­fense for the United States at the Women’s World Cup

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@latimes.com

OT­TAWA — The small room is packed with nearly two dozen re­porters when Meghan Klin­gen­berg walks in and takes a seat be­hind a long white fold­ing ta­ble.

“Hi ev­ery­body!” she says cheer­fully.

That’s pretty much how Klin­gen­berg says ev­ery­thing — cheer­fully, of­ten punc­tu­ated by a laugh.

If Hope Solo is the dark cloud of U. S. soc­cer, Klin­gen­berg is its pixie- sized ray of sun­shine. And on Wed­nes­day she was shin­ing.

“This has been an in­cred­i­bly fun ex­pe­ri­ence!” she says of her f irst Women’s World Cup. “It’s some­thing you’ve been pre­par­ing for your en­tire life. So when you ac­tu­ally get to par­tic­i­pate in it, it’s a lit­tle bit of a pinch- me mo­ment.

“Ev­ery time I get to get on the f ield and play for my coun­try it’s an honor. And I just love it.”

Klin­gen­berg is also en­joy­ing her­self on the f ield, where she has started all four U. S. games, lead­ing a back line that hasn’t given up a goal in its last 333 min­utes.

“Ev­ery­body needs to stop talk­ing about the streak,” she says . “It’s good de­fense, that’s what it is.”

Well that and a game- sav­ing play from Klin­gen­berg, whose leap­ing def lec­tion on the goal line not only pre­served a score­less tie with Swe­den dur­ing group play, but saved the score­less streak as well.

It was a huge play by the team’s small­est player, who comes up short in the height depart­ment but nowhere else. Be­cause although the 5- foot- 1 Klin­gen­berg may look like Tinker Bell, in her case looks are de­ceiv­ing.

Pound for pound she’s ar­guably the tough­est mem­ber of a U. S. team that is un­beaten go­ing into Fri­day’s quar­ter­fi­nal game with China.

What softie would think of tak­ing nunchucks to school for the fifth- grade tal­ent show, as Klin­gen­berg did? And how many other soc­cer play­ers are also third­de­gree black belts in taek­wondo?

So don’t be fooled by the smile. Grow­ing up she and her younger, but larger, brother would en­gage in daily one- on- one games in the base­ment that typ­i­cally ended with one par­ent step­ping in to sep­a­rate the sib­lings.

“My men­tal­ity hasn’t changed at all,” Klin­gen­berg says. “Ev­ery game I play I want to win.”

Tough­ness isn’t al­ways enough, though. You also need heart, de­sire and ded­i­ca­tion. Which is why there’s a copy of an 11- year- old email taped to a bath­room mir­ror in Klin­gen­berg’s child­hood home out­side Pittsburgh.

In the email, a coach in­forms the then 15- year- old she isn’t good enough to make the ros­ter for a re­gional Olympic De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram team. Klin­gen­berg was not pleased.

“Meghan printed the email and put it on that mir­ror in the bath­room so she could see it ev­ery day,” her fa­ther Daniel told the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle.

It wouldn’t be the last time Klin­gen­berg was told she wasn’t good enough.

Dur­ing the last Olympics, she trav­eled to Lon­don as an al­ter­nate and trained as many as three times a day, many times alone. She then watched from the stands as the U. S. won the gold medal.

Klin­gen­berg didn’t play again for for­mer U. S. coach Pia Sund­hage. And although she was called into camp un­der Sund­hage’s suc­ces­sor, Tom Ser­manni, she didn’t be­come a reg­u­lar un­til 14 months ago, when Jill El­lis took over the team. She has started Klin­gen­berg in 26 of her 30 games as coach.

Klin­gen­berg ar­rived at the World Cup with the sec­ond- fewest in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ances among U. S. starters, but she quickly be­came an an­chor on a young back line that has given up only 11 shots on goal in the tour­na­ment.

“I’ve been re­ally pleased with the ma­tu­rity they’ve had,” El­lis said of the team’s de­fend­ers. “They’ve done a fan­tas­tic job read­ing the game and stay­ing com­posed.”

Given the lack­lus­ter per­for­mance by the U. S. on of­fense, the de­fense may need another shutout, which would ex­tend the score­less streak to 423 min­utes, to beat China on Fri­day.

“As long as we keep do­ing that and keep­ing a zero on that score sheet, we will ab­so­lutely be in ev­ery game that we play,” Klin­gen­berg says.

Even­tu­ally, the con­ver­sa­tion cir­cles back to whether she’s hav­ing fun and Klin­gen­berg’s face bright­ens again.

“I’m hav­ing a blast!” she says. “There’s so many dif­fer­ent words you can use to de­scribe the World Cup.

“Fun is def­i­nitely one of them.”

Kevin C. Cox Getty I mages

MEGHAN KLIN­GEN­BERG of the U. S., right, ap­plies pres­sure to Sofia Jakobsson of Swe­den.

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